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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Shiite Leader Escapes Assassination Attempt

Aired August 25, 2003 - 19:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says the problems bedeviling the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq aren't that different from what allied forces faced in Germany after World War II.

In El Paso, Texas, today Rice asked for the nation's patience over Iraq in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars who gave her their Eisenhower distinguished service award. There it is. She told the group Iraq is a battleground in which the terrorists will lose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The war on terror must be fought on the offense. Defense of the homeland is a vital mission. But the president has been clear, we will take this fight to them. We will not fight this in the cities of America. We will fight on their turf and we will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, could thousands of Iraqis head to Hungary for training as police officers?

Hungary reportedly says it has held some discussions with the U.S. about the idea. U.S. officials are hoping to turn matter of security over to Iraqis as soon as possible.

Now, one reason is the belief that Iraqis might prove less of a target for terror than U.S. troops have.

The news came on the same day the U.S. death toll in Iraq since May 1 reached 138. Sad, of course, but the numbers is also significant. It's the same number killed prior to the day when President Bush said major hostilities were over.

Also today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said more U.S. troops could go to Iraq if commanders there request it.

Some Iraqis today said the U.S. must do more to make the country safe. For one thing, the Red Cross is pulling some workers out, saying it has reason to think it could be a target.

The terror struck again yesterday, as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports in Najaf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prayers for the dead in a holy city, three men killed when a bomb went off outside the office of Ayatollah Mohammed Zaid al-Hakeem (ph), a prominent Shiite cleric.

The blast blew a hole in a room he usually worked in, killing two of his bodyguards and an assistant. Ayatollah al-Hakeem (ph) was only slightly injured and has now gone into hiding.

In the feverish climate of uncertainty gripping this country, the attack only intensifies fears of brewing trouble.

An assassination attempt on a leading religious figure in this city is particularly sensitive. During the decades of Ba'athist rule, Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, eliminated almost all secular political outlets for Shiites.

Now the clerics of Najaf are vying among themselves for preeminence and the earthly struggle for power has taken some distinctly unholy turns.

One leading cleric was stabbed to death in April. No one claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Ayatollah Hakeem's (ph) son warns supporters to act calmly and avoid inflaming the situation further by rash action, a request that may prove difficult when emotions are running so high.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: And, Anderson, many of the people in Najaf were actually holding the United States and its forces in Najaf responsible for this act, simply because they said the Americans were not able to provide the kind of security that would have prevented such attacks.

There is talk now in Najaf among some of the Shiite groups of forming their own militias, something that certainly isn't going help stability there -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Ben Wedeman, thanks for the update.

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